Developers eye large city subdivision

May 14, 2007
VERGENNES — After years of waiting for new zoning laws to be adopted, the owners of a large vacant parcel on West Main Street are now ready to sell their property to developers who are seeking approval to build 54 single-family homes on the land in a planned residential development (PRD).
Farmers Marcel and Paul Bourgeois have an agreement to sell their parcel, which also fronts on Otter Creek and Hopkins Road, to Rivers Edge Associates LLC for an undisclosed sum. The parties to the deal said some contingencies remain.  
Rivers Edge, which has as its principals Peter Kahn of Charlotte and Alan Bartlett of Colchester, has held a series of meetings with the Vergennes Development Review Board (DRB) in recent months to iron out details of the final application for a project they have dubbed “Claybrook.”
DRB member and planning commission chairman Neil Curtis said the DRB will review the Claybrook application formally on June 4, and then probably call for a public hearing at the board’s July 2 meeting.
Curtis said city zoning officials have so far found Rivers Edge sensitive to their concerns. He said developers agreed to extend at their expense the city sidewalk to the access road to the development, to move an interior road away from a natural feature of the land the board valued, and to improve interior easements that will allow public access to Otter Creek.
“They’ve been responsive and made some changes,” Curtis said. “Hopefully at the July hearing there won’t be any surprises.”
Claybrook plans call for four phases, although Kahn said that the roads and sewer, and water and power lines for first and second phases might be done at the same time.
Although plans call for 54 homes, Kahn said residents should not expect to see that many homes suddenly spring up in what is now an agricultural tract. Rivers Edge can only guess at how quickly Claybrook will build out, with Kahn’s best estimate an annual range of three to 10 homes.
“It’s very hard to tell what the absorption rate would be,” said Kahn, whose Sienna LLC has already built a half-dozen homes in Vergennes, including four in Crosby Farms. 
Homes will be priced “in the mid-$300,000s,” he said, and will be a variety of two- and one-level styles. Size will generally range from 2,000 to 2,600 square feet with three or four bedrooms, and there will be attached garages.
Lot sizes will range from just under to just over a half-acre, with a minimum of 125 feet of lot frontage, as is required by just-approved city zoning laws. Kahn said that extra frontage will make for attractive lots and an attractive neighborhood.
“That’s really going to set this project apart from other developments in Vergennes and elsewhere,” he said. “Usually if you get 100 feet you’re doing well. It’s going to look really nice.”
Rivers Edge principals believe that price range and the quality of the development will lure professionals, including new hires at Goodrich Corp., who now look elsewhere for homes.
“It’s a niche we think is missing in Vergennes, that’s not really being captured,” Kahn said.
The proposal calls for two roads to access the development, one off West Main Street and one off Hopkins Road. Two interior loops will create extra road frontage and also surround green spaces of 3.2 and 7.1 acres. In all, the home lots and roads will cover 36.3 of the 108 acres, almost exactly one-third.
Technically, per the new zoning laws the remaining acreage must be reconsidered for development after 10 years, but Kahn said the city would have to relax its regulations to allow any more homes on the land, much of which lies in the Otter Creek flood plain in any case.  
“Right now 54 homes is the maximum number,” Kahn said. “(More development) is not something we foresee happening in our lifetime.”
Kahn hopes to have a city permit later this summer, and then tackle the state permit process. If all goes well, groundbreaking late in 2008 is possible, he said.
Kahn said Rivers Edge also has a deal with Paul and Marcel Bourgeois for a smaller parcel on the other side of West Main Street, and has discussed five condominium duplexes on that parcel.
Curtis said city zoning official have not dealt before with a project of this magnitude, and will proceed carefully. Still, he expects the application to advance, barring unforeseen hurdles.
“We’ll go back and forth making sure all our i’s are dotted and t’s are crossed … I also think we’re all reasonable people. I expect a good outcome from it,” he said. “I don’t see anything here that’s a showstopper … I think there may be details that may have to be worked out along the way.”
Given some residents’ and officials’ sensitivity about design control, Curtis said he wanted to make clear what the DRB would review, which he said would not include the size, style and placement of homes or the location of curb cuts.
“All we’re dealing with is where the lots are going to go, where the roads are going to go, where the green space is going to go,” he said.

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